A disaster in the making: what will happen to class size if the mayor's cuts go through?

There's a good quote from Ann Kjellberg in today's NY Times about the mayor's proposed slash and burn budget cuts to schools:  "We feel like pawns in his political struggles,” said Ann Kjellberg, a schools advocate and the mother of a fourth grader. “He said he needs $300 million to save these jobs, and $300 million seems like an amount you could find if you looked hard.”

However, we should keep in mind that the goal must be to avert the elimination of 6,000 plus teaching positions  --not merely to prevent 4,000  layoffs; as it is this larger figure, eight percent of the teaching force, that has a direct effect on class size.  Preventing the elimination of 6,000 teachers would cost an estimated $377 million.

Also, Walcott now says class size will be raised by about two students per class – considerably more than his previous testimony before the city council of an increase of one to one a half students.  The UFT has predicted that these cuts would lead to an increase of  about three students per class.  To be conservative, I have prepared charts, showing what Walcott's prediction would mean in terms of average class size, compared to the goals the city made a commitment to achieve after the CFE/C4E  legislation was passed in 2007.  

Ironically, the 2011-2012 school year was supposed to be the final year in DOE's state-approved C4E class size reduction plan; in which they promised to reduce average class sizes in grades K-3 to no more than 19.9 students per class;  22.9 in grades 4-8; and 24.5 in high school core classes. 

We will be further from those goals than anyone could have possibly imagined when the CFE case was settled, and far above what class sizes were in 2003, when the state's highest court concluded that NYC children were deprived of their constitutional right to an adequate education because of excessive class sizes. (In 2003, average class size in grades K-3 was about 21.6; and in grades 4-8 at 26.7; we had no reliable  data for high school).

Yet these charts are highly uncertain, and likely to reflect the minimum of what the actual effect may be. Remember that the distribution of class sizes across the city is very uneven, and more than half of all middle school classes and more than 60 percent of high school classes are larger than 28 students already.  

Enrollment and classroom overcrowding is also increasing at the same time, the latter due to co-locations and school closings as well as growing enrollment.  All these factors also have a significantly negative impact on class size. 

Already nearly one third of all Kindergarten students are in classes of 25 or more (at or above the contractual level); this percentage will likely rise next year no matter what happens to the budget, as evidenced by the fact that there are Kindergarten waiting lists at one fourth of all elementary schools.  

Though I have no crystal ball and insufficient statistical skills to be able to model all these factors, I imagine than many if not most NYC schools will be forced to increase their class sizes  to the UFT contractual levels next year if these cuts go through:

• 25 in kindergarten
• 32 in 1-3 grades (for many years, the DOE and the UFT had a “side” agreement to keep class sizes to 28 in these grades, which they are no longer honoring)
• 32 in 4-6th grades
• 30 in Title I middle schools
• 33 in non-Title I middle schools
• 34 in academic classes in high school  
50 for PE and music in middle schools and HS
The struggle for principals to keep class sizes reasonably small is is also complicated by the so-called “fair student funding” scheme, which DOE imposed in 2007.  Among its many flaws, it forces principals to cover the the entire cost of their staffing, does not ensure that there are enough teachers to meet even contractual levels, and has itself been severely eroded by repeated city budget cuts over recent years.
Walcott concluded this way: ““All schools will feel this one way or the other,” he said. “We have to manage this, and manage this very well.”    

What does this mean?  How can a school "manage" class increases this large?  Whatever the particular increases turn out to be, these cuts would likely be a disaster for NYC children and their opportunity to learn, and must be prevented at all costs.

Also see the NY1 coverage.
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